The story of Adam and Eve is well known — God gave them permission to eat from all the trees in the Garden of Eden except for one — the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But curiosity (and the serpent) got the better of them and they ate the “forbidden fruit.”
But was the fruit really an apple? Some historians believe that the reason for this assumption is that the Latin word for apple is “malus,” similar to the word meaning evil.
But an apple wasn’t always an apple as we know it today. As late as the 17th century, the English word “apple” simply meant any fruit. In the Jewish tradition, the forbidden fruit of Eden was in fact, a fig.
Collectively, fig trees belong to Ficus, a genus of about 850 species of woody trees, shrubs and vines native to the tropics and semi-warm temperate zones.
After Adam and Eve ate the delicious fruit, “the eyes of the two of them were opened” and for the first time, they felt shame in their nakedness. So, they fabricated coverings for their private parts out of…fig leaves.
Perhaps God would not have been so angry if they had waited a bit. “If you tell me that you desire a fig,” said Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus, “I answer you that there must be time.”
Indeed, the symbolism of the fig tree has only become more positive since that bad day in Eden.
“If I had to mention a fruit that descended from paradise, I would say this is it because the paradisical fruits do not have pits,” stated Prophet Muhammad. “Eat from these fruits for they prevent hemorrhoids, prevent piles and help gout.”
Settlers of the American West often used the biblical quote “each man under his own vine and fig tree” (1 Kings 4:25) to denote the peace and prosperity that they were hoping to find.
Last week, fig fans around the United States celebrated National Fig Week. Also last week, a 312-year-old Chinese fig tree was recognized as a Vietnamese heritage tree by the Vietnam Association for Conservation of Nature and Environment (VACNE) in the central city of Hue.
So behold the complex and beautiful fig tree. Take a bite. Wear a leaf. After all, it is the tree of knowledge, bears the fruit of desire and grows leaves that were essentially the birth of fashion.